Walking and talking

For anyone moving to a new city, making friends can be difficult. And the older you get, the harder it seems. I’ve reinvented myself a number of times, moving to cities and countries in which I knew one, maybe two people, and oftentimes no one at all.

Back in my 20s it was easy. Most of those I met were of similar age and as young, free, and single as I was. They were open to meeting new people and making new friends. Of course, I’m blessed to be Irish, probably the one nationality in the world that almost everyone seems predisposed to liking. By virtue of my birth I come packaged with an expectation in others that I’ll be up for a party – whenever, wherever.

In my 30s, I noticed a difference. A subtle difference, mind you, but an important one nonetheless. My peer group were now newly married couples, perhaps young parents whose priorities in life had changed. They had husbands and wives to go home to. They had children to bathe. They had stuff to do at the weekend and families to be with on the holidays. I managed. I always do. But it was a tad harder.

In my 40s, it took a lot more effort. Moving to a country whose spoken language still defeats me, a country where things are simply different – not better or worse than other places I’ve lived, just different – this was harder again. And a lot of it was down to me. I had my peculiarities. I was prone to my particular figaries. And I had become a little more discerning about whose company I kept. I’ve noticed that my tolerance levels are gradually declining as the years advance.

For the first couple of years in Hungary, I didn’t seek out an expat community. In fact, it wasn’t until the birth of the Gift of the Gab some two years after I’d arrived, that I had my coming out. I began to meet people. Some expat groups were a little too cliquish for my taste, a little too ‘them and us’ when it came to Hungarians. And I tried a few. And then true to form, the Irishness in Hungary won out.

The Irish Hungarian Business Circle (IHBC) is one of a number of chambers in town and despite its name, its focus is not purely business; there’s a charity and a social arm as well. And the social arm is very inclusive. The regular pub gatherings (this year in the Caledonia) on the First Friday of each month draw people from all over. The volunteer work trips to the orphanage in Göd attract people of all ages. And the regular hikes during the year are one of the best opportunities this city offers to meet new people.

IMG_1022 (800x534)Some hikes have had six hikers. Some have had over 40. The inimitable Malcolm Trussler tailors the walks to suit the numbers … and the weather.  Last Sunday saw 20 of us get the train to Nagymáros where we caught the ferry across to Visegrád and from there hiked a nice 10.5 km through the lower Pilis hills to Pilisszentlászló. Sixteen adults, four kids, seven nationalities … and a dog.

As we wended our way through the hills we fell in with different people and had a chance to chat without distraction. No phones. No iPods. No tablets. Just us. Clean air. Good conversation. Afterwards, we ate at the Kis Rigó Vendéglő before bussing back to Szentendre and catching the Hév back to Budapest.

Next hike is planned for October. Dust off those boots and get the thermos ready.

First published in The Budapest Times 2 October 2015


Up hill and down vale

Somewhere between my mid-20s and my early 30s, the thought of a hot, sudsy bath became more enjoyable than the bath itself. Gone were the nights when I could spend an hour soaking in the tub, reading, or listening to music, while sipping on a glass of wine. In their stead came a longing that never quite matched up to the reality. I’d look forward to a bath – think of it all day – and then once in it, I’d last barely five minutes. But thanks to the inimitable MT and his IHBC winter hike, I have recaptured the glory of it all. I finally succumbed to a long, leisurely, soak that lasted nearly 20 minutes and a full BG&C. The magic has returned. Thank you, Mr T.

‘Don’t worry’, she said. ‘The smug feeling we’ll have when it’s all over will make it worth it.’ Yeah right. ‘Don’t worry’, he said. ‘It’ll be a short, easy hike. We’ll be eating by 2.30 latest.’ In my dreams. I can fault neither of them – the fault (if any) lies clearly with me – I believed them. And I was wrong.

IMG_1091 (600x800)I was a little taken aback at the chorus of ‘Mary! You’re here!’  that greeted me at the set-off point. Such incredulity should have been a warning. So many people couldn’t possibly have been looking forward to my company, scintillating though it is. The exclamation marks were deafening. They obviously knew what was in store – and I obviously didn’t.  I had the boots, I had the rain gear, I had donned my layers. I’d even remembered my bottle of water. And I was determined to get all my moaning over with before I put one foot on the hills. I had a vague notion that I’d need to save my breath, every breath – I’d need them to breathe.

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The first clue that things wouldn’t go to plan came on the tram. ‘Oops, I missed the stop!’ For a heartbreaking second I thought we’d have to walk further, but no. I was assured that, if anything, it would make it a shorter hike. Shorter than the advertised [and I quote] ‘shorter, less demanding and more sociable walk’. Note the use of understatement here… walk.  There’s a lesson to be learned here in relativity. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and all that. I took heart in the fact that others, too, had brought their cameras, and if nothing else, the scenery would be worth photographing.

Not having been on any of the previous hikes, I had nothing to compare it to. When we left the paved roads and the fancy houses and hit the woods, it was beautiful. A veritable winter wonderland. As we picked up the pace I noticed that I wasn’t cold but I was wet. Wet from the inside out. And getting wetter. And pretty soon that wet sweat began to freeze and I could feel my shoulder tensing and my arm pulsing and my hand swelling to the point that my ring finger looked like a banded sausage. Vertical hills left me wheezing and although determined not to moan aloud, my facial contortions must have been priceless. I was in Agony (and that capital A is deliberate). Not all of the time – just some of the time. It didn’t help that MT was nimbly jogging up hill and down vale, keeping his errant strays in check. Or that others seemed to be literally taking it all in their stride. And to really add insult to injury, Sz and R were actually smoking!

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There were lots of distractions by way of conversation. Planning a US road trip with EZ, plotting strategy with Sz trying to wangle tips on dealing with a mid-life crisis from RB – all these momentarily distracted me from the fact that this hike was taking decidedly longer than planned.  The first time the map appeared, I didn’t pay much attention. The second time though, I began to feel just a little less confident. Don’t get me wrong – I had no fear for life or limb and I didn’t doubt for a minute that we would eventually get to where we were going, I just wasn’t at all sure that it would be by the appointed time of ‘2.30 latest’. And given that it was now closing in on 3pm, I was at least right on that point.

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When we hit the railroad track and heard a train coming, for one mad moment I thought seriously about hitching a lift. They make it look so easy in the cowboy movies…  I’d have done anything rather than face another incline.  Light was waning and the mist was settling in. The lead dogs were mere outlines in the distance. And from my vantage point, nothing much had changed.

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I used my camera as a prop, stopping to take photos while catching my breath. The scenery really was something else. When the restaurant called to see where we were, I was within earshot and even with my limited Hungarian, I knew enough to know that EP’s ‘fél ora’ meant that the day wasn’t even close to being over. It was one of MT’s ‘fél oras’ and as I had come to realise, he has his own unique way of measuring time. So I stopped and took more photos. I tried to take off my ring but my hand was swollen so much  it was impossible. I thought gangrene. I thought lumbago. I started to wonder how I’d face my Assembly of 150 anxious teens in the morning. I even started to draft my last will and testament.

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It was really beautiful, though. And the company was great. Had I been home, I’d have been in front of my laptop working. But I was getting cranky. Petulant. Irritable. I was discovering something about myself that I already half-knew – I just can’t march to the beat of someone else’s drum. Especially not when the other drummers are fitter and fleeter of foot. Just when I’d catch up with them, we’d be off again. That old adage kept coming to mind: no rest for the wicked. I wondered what I’d done to deserve this.

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When we finally landed at Normafa, I knew I wouldn’t be able to summon up the energy to lift fork to mouth, let alone the brain matter needed to decide what to eat. And I was sopping. So I jumped ship and bussed it back to town.  And at least I wasn’t on my own. IF captured the moment nicely when he said how glad he was that he’d joined the IHBC – ‘they’re a lovely bunch of people’.  They are. We are. Though it was demanding, it was very sociable.

I’ve crossed one more thing off my bucket list and for all my bitchin’, I am glad I went. The one unanswered question I have though is how RB managed to stay looking as if he’d stepped off the front page of Esquire!

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